Earlier this week, the Evening News ran an article with the unfortunate headline: “Shoppers turn their back on the dirtiest street in Scotland” after Keith Hale, owner of the Leith Walk Barber Salon told a journalist:
“Leith Walk is one of the dirtiest high streets in Scotland and certainly the dirtiest in Edinburgh.
“The council are not enforcing waste collection, for example. Instead of two bin collections, traders are trying to get by with one and their bins are overflowing.
“You walk down Leith Walk and see at least a dozen bins overflowing, with seagulls flying over them. It’s horrible.”
This was his explanation as to why footfall monitoring figures showed less people were walking down Leith Walk.
Thus the Evening News managed to link a decline in footfall figures to litter, seemingly on the opinion of a few traders.
At the time, this appeared to be a bit of a leap. Afterall, footfall could be declining for many reasons – correlation is not causation – and is it really fair to brand the street “the worst in Scotland?” It prompted us to take a look for some statistics to see if Mr Hales opinion had any basis in fact.
And what do you know? Despite thinking that it may have been hyperbole – it turns out that independent monitoring statistics do lead some veracity to at least part of Mr Hale’s claims. Leith Walk, could indeed be one of the most dirty high streets in Scotland.
If we take a look at the national picture, the City of Edinburgh Council has, on average, the filthiest streets in Scotland. That’s according to 2010/2011 figures from Audit Scotland.
Turning to a local level, an analysis that you can find here, shows that although Leith Walk and Leith Wards are apparently cleaner than they were – they were still graded as amongst the most dirty wards in the city.
Furthermore, they both failed to meet the minimum cleanliness targets set by independent monitoring agency Keep Scotland Beautiful. Only Sighthill and Gorgie came in lower, and that was by just one point.
So, judging by the latest monitoring stats it would seem to be pretty fair to say that Gorgie Road and Leith Walk may well be in a position to tie for the unfortunate title of “Most dirty High Street in Scotland.”
Now, is it reasonable to claim that this level of grime is the cause of the observed decline in footfall, as the Evening News proposed?
Well that one’s harder. There’s no doubt that the number of people walking down Leith Walk is going down. Below you can see a graph that gives nearly two years worth of monthly footfall monitoring data from an automated machine at Vittorias.
But can you link this decline to litter on Leith Walk? Well that one’s harder to stack up. Afterall, we know that cleanliness in Leith has improved marginally, over the last year.
And it turns out that footfall has declined year on year across the UK, and in some other streets in the city.
So it’s perhaps just as likely that the decline in footfall on Leith Walk could be the impact of tram works – which are increasingly having an affecting the East end of the city – it could be the recession – it could be the ongoing expansion of shopping malls – it could be the closure of Leith Waterworld – or it could be a decline in the numbers of tourists coming to the city.
It could be that there are many things that are affecting footfall on Leith Walk – and in reality they probably all combine in some impenetrable way.
But if Leith Walk is one of the worst high streets in Scotland for litter – and we know it’s already been branded one of the worst in the UK to cycle down – then these unfortunate accolades the street keeps acquiring just make it even more important that the council heeds local people’s views on how it should best spend £5.5million to improve the street.